File photo of an SVG passport.

The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will provide free replacement passports for its citizens in the Leeward Islands whose passports were destroyed by the recent hurricanes.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibilities for citizenship matters, told a press conference on Monday that his government will dispatch immigration and education officials to the Leeward Islands after the passage of Hurricane Maria.

“I want to send immigration officers and education officers to the BVI (British Virgin), Anguilla and also to Antigua. There are a number of people they have lost their passports; got damaged. Not only in their homes but people in the BVI, they put their passport in by the immigration office in the BVI to get them stamped to stay on further, the place blow down,” Gonsalves said.

He said that the swiftest way to facilitate the replacement of the travel document is to send officials to the hurricane-affected jurisdictions.

“We will have the photographs in database already. To get the information, you don’t have to wait the standard six months, which you normally wait because we know this is a disaster. And we have taken the decision to waive the payment for the passport and the replacement.”

Normally, the replacement for a lost, damaged or destroyed passport includes a fee for the new passport and a replacement cost, because the original one is heavily subsidised, Gonsalves said.

“And it is a way to stop you not being careless with it, to be careful, so there is a fee on to that.”

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Regarding Vincentians students living in the affected islands, he said the Ministry of Education in Kingstown will work on some protocols to have the students continue their education in SVG.

Gonsalves said that the priority will be secondary school students writing exit examinations and advanced level students.

The offer is available to children of Vincentian parents who are Vincentian citizens by birth, and other nationalities, on the condition that they have a familial or friend connection to SVG.

“We will be prepared to accommodate. Of course, the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) is prepared to accommodate also — other countries, but, clearly, the Vincentians will want to come home to St. Vincent — the children.

“The only thing we say is that you must have your family or friend connection… I don’t want to have a lot of children come where they don’t have anywhere to stay.

“And, in any case, the State can’t properly take on responsibility for overseeing children. They have to go to families and friends of families.”

The prime minister said his government will also help in a number of different ways, including with uniform and books as best as it can in the circumstances, particularly for indigent families.